"This album was born out of a need to do some healing work in my personal life, in order to address some fears and patterns of mine to allow my true feelings to come to the surface,” Erin Rae says of Putting On Airs, her introspective second studio album released via Single Lock Records last month.
Indeed, it is Rae’s sincerity that radiates throughout the LP, bolstered by her lilting, soaring vocals and adept cast of collaborators’ warm, guitar-driven arrangements. Currently on tour, the Nashville-bred singer-songwriter recently took time from her busy schedule to discuss the inspiration behind the album’s twelve songs of substance, her musical influences, the impact her hometown has had on her artistic growth, and much more.
Justin Chadwick: Congratulations on the recent release of Putting On Airs, which is such a gorgeous record! How do you think your songwriting and recording approach have evolved since your 2015 debut LP Soon Enough?
Erin Rae: With this record we got to approach it one song at a time, whereas on Soon Enough the goal was to capture what I had been playing with The Meanwhiles for a couple of years. We hadn’t really played many of the songs for Putting On Airs, so we were able to do the whole demo, preproduction process and take our time. We got to explore some new sounds like I wanted!
JC: Soon Enough was released under the Erin Rae and The Meanwhiles moniker, but Putting On Airs features your name, and your name alone. What prompted the decision to formally "fly solo" for your new record?
ER: The Meanwhiles was a name for the group of friends that made (2012 EP) Crazy Talk and Soon Enough: Graham Bechler, Cori Bechler, Kevin Whitset, & Mark Sloan. When I started touring more, Dom Billett & Jerry Bernhardt became my band, and we started dreaming up the second record, it felt weird to keep them under the same name. The Meanwhiles moniker is like a marker of time, and making music with those folks, and just going under my name frees up room for the new sound. This record is by Erin Rae with Jerry Bernhardt, Dom Billett, and Dan Knobler. [Laughs]
JC: Across all of your songs, and as particularly evidenced on Putting On Airs, it’s obvious that you have a penchant for the confessional and, at times, emotionally vulnerable when it comes to your lyrics. How do you reconcile the inclination to share your personal experiences and feelings in your songs with the need to preserve or protect parts of your identity for yourself?
ER: I think the thing is that those songs were written one-and-a-half to two years ago now, so performing them now and releasing them feels like more like telling a story, rather than confessing my current state of mind. They mean new things, and while they are conveying a very recent experience, they aren’t exposing a raw nerve, or embarrassing. Humans change every day, even on the molecular level, and performing the songs kind of helps me to gain some perspective and detach from those experiences rather than identifying so closely with them now.
JC: Americana. Folk. Indie rock. Country. Many different classifications have been assigned to your music by others. But how do you describe your music?
ER: Oh I don’t know! [Laughs] Folk, indie, country songwriting. Elements of all of those, I think. For me, it just starts with songwriting. That’s what I grew up on. I love so many different kinds of music, and hopefully notes of all of it come through in some way.
JC: The reflective “Love Like Before” is my personal favorite song on the album, as your words and vocals are simultaneously melancholic and hopeful, and the arrangement complements your wistful tone and disposition. Can you discuss the inspiration behind writing the song?
ER: It was born out of idealizing different places and experiences with the belief that I’d internally feel better if had them. Having a cute apartment with hardwood floors and old windows, and then arriving there and still feeling internal unrest. Realizing that I’d have to find some kind of spiritual connection to fill that longing. It’s one of my faves too!
JC: What other musicians and songwriters have had the most profound impact on your music?
ER: Greg Brown, Kate Campbell, Feist, my parents. My mom’s poetry, my dad’s songwriting and their singing. Playing music and singing helps me feel connected to them, and I hear them in what I do.
JC: You’re currently on tour…how are the shows going thus far? What do you enjoy most about life on the road? And what don’t you enjoy so much?
ER: The shows are great! We play Philly tonight. I just love getting better and relaxing more and more into playing each night! Also really love devolving into the full psychosis of van
jokes. I hate when I forget to leave the jokes in the van and they come out in front of normal human beings and they think we are the weirdest people in the world. There’s no way to explain it.
JC: Later this summer, you’re slated to perform at the End of the Road Festival in England, where you’ve deservedly received a very favorable reception from critics and fans alike. How does it feel to have your music embraced so positively there?
ER: It is wild and a dream come true. When I first started writing songs in 2009, my only goals were to make friends and go to England to play. At least I can say I’ve accomplished one of those things.
JC: Though I’ve called New York City home for nearly two decades now, I’ve spent quite a bit of time in Nashville over the years and I’ve developed great affection for the city, its people, and its dynamic music community. Can you talk about what the city means to you and how it has helped to shape your music?
ER: Nashville’s my home! I feel so lucky that we moved there when I was a kid. I think that was what helped provide some early confidence, just being comfortable in that place, as well as the musicians that were our family friends. I was fortunate to have some great mentors in close family friends, and then such a dense population of talented people all exploring making music to grow up with these last nine years!
Some of my favorite memories are the more causal hangs with friends swapping songs, and picking parties, getting to sing harmonies for friends’ projects, and open mic night at Cafe Coco in the early days. So many styles of music, and so many late night song swaps helped to inspire and foster my creativity when I was first starting out.
JC: When you envision how your career might evolve in the years to come, what does success—or more simply, satisfaction—look like to you?
ER: I’m just excited to keep making music and hopefully being able to make records! I want to keep learning more. I’m in a phase of being so inspired and discovering new music. Just absorbing a lot. I want to just create a balanced life for myself, I don’t feel too far from that now.
JC: OK, last question. In the spirit of Albumism, what are your FIVE favorite albums of all time?
ER: Feist’s Metals, Wilco’s Sky Blue Sky, Greg Brown’s The Live One, and my current faves include Big Thief’s Masterpiece and Capacity, and Ryan Oxford’s Fa Fa Fa Fired.